October 4, 2016
I envy vintage baseball card collectors.
Are they more expensive than similar cards in other sports? Absolutely.
Are there more people chasing them? Oh yes.
Is there more of most of the cards available? Undoubtedly.
None of those are the reason why I envy those collectors. I think they are lucky because more is known about the cards that they are collecting. The reasons for that? See the three questions above. More demand equates to more collectors researching the history of the cards.
The American Tobacco Company T206 set is the granddaddy of all baseball card sets. It starts at the top with the Honus Wagner (a copy just sold for $3.1M on October 1) but is popular for many reasons. Many collectors focus on back variations. Cards were produced of some Southern League players, but in more limited quantities. There are many ways to collect the set.
The popularity of the set has accounted for no lack of information on the set. You can find hundreds, if not thousands, of threads about the set on net54baseball.com. In a thread I posted there, asking for general knowledge, someone gave me a link to a 77-page piece on the set (link below).
I recently picked up a couple of cards from the set, but it’s not an interest of mine. I am into trading cards that revolve around the Indianapolis 500 and the men that have driven in The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
My interest in the history of the Indianapolis 500 reached an all-time high this year, leading up to the 100th Running of the race. I began researching and found a few vintage sets that were about the race or contained drivers in the race. That’s where I came across the 1911 American Tobacco Company Auto Drivers (also known as T36) set.
I haven’t been able to find much information on the set. It is a 25 card set, by the book. This is the “set information” from Beckett.com. “This 25-card set was produced for The American Tobacco Company. Each card includes a small ad for either Hassan or Mecca Cigarettes on the cardback. All 25 cards were produced with both ad back variations. The cards measure 2 1/2 x 1 3/4 and came with square corners. The cards are unnumbered and feature top race car drivers of the day from both North America and Europe representing all types of auto racing events. They were packaged one card per 10 cigarette pack and two per 20 cigarette pack. The cards were inserted in cigarette packs starting on March 27th, 1911 and ending on March 31st, 1911. Special thanks to Jon Hardgrove for providing much of this information.”
I’m not the world’s greatest internet researcher, but I feel quite positive that I am at least average. Other than that, I’ve only been able to find one other piece of information on the set, an old auction listing that had information I was not aware of.
Outside of these pieces of information, I know very little about the set. However, learning about back variations made me wonder about the T36 cards. I knew there were both Hassan and Mecca backs, presumably making this a 50-card set. Then I learned about Factory variations and checked the cards that I could (both mine and currently for sale). They do come from two different factories, 30 and 649. Is this a 100-card set?
So far, I don’t have enough evidence to make a solid hypothesis, but for me the door is open than this could be a 100-card set with all variations. I have found out a couple of things examining the few copies of these cards that I know of.
I have two copies of the Ralph DePalma card. One has the Mecca back and one the Hassan. They have different factory numbers. This was the first pair of variations that I knew of, leading me to believe it is a 50-card set with the variations.
For months I believed that this was the “master” set, a Mecca and Hassan back for each.
Most of these cards I’ve seen are listed on eBay with ridiculous Buy it Now prices. When auctions come along, they end anywhere from 33-50% of the ones establishing residency on eBay. The auctions don’t come along often, at least that I have found. Over the last six months or so, I have seen five auctions and won four of those.
In the last month, two George Robertson cards have been up for auction and I won both of those. When I saw the second one, I was interested in the back. It was a Hassan back, just like the one that I had. However, it was from Factory 30 but the one in my possession already was Factory 649.
The combination of these two pairs of variations has me back to thinking that the complete, master set will indeed be 100 cards. So far these are the only cards I have seen with the different backs, but one is a brand variation and one a factory variation.
Since I cannot find much info on the set, I am left to researching them myself. My hope is that sometime soon another DePalma or Robertson variation will come along, but I doubt it will be soon. Luckily, I’m young enough that I have plenty of years to try and unravel this mystery.